Egyptian Hieroglyphs – Lesson 5


The Basics

Adjectives are descriptive words that modify nouns, noun phrases, and pronouns. They describe the qualities of the word(s) they qualify. In the English example, “the gold headdress,” the adjective “gold” modifies the noun “headdress,” describing the quality of the headdress. The primary uses of adjectives in Middle Egyptian is as modifiers or as a nouns (yes, adjectives can also become nouns!). Below is a chart listing the adjective endings as well as an example.


Adjective Endings
Number Masculine Feminine
Singular  t
Plural  -w  t
Adjective Endings Example
Number Masculine Feminine
Singular nfr - Masculine Singular - Adjectivenfr nfrt - Feminine Singular - Adjectivenfrt
Plural nfrw - Masculine Plural - Adjectivenfrw nfrt - Feminine Plural - Adjectivenfrt


In this example, the adjective nfr, “good, beautiful, perfect,” is used in every possible combination of number and gender. Only the ending changes–the base word nfr remains consistent.

It is important to note that the plural strokes, in the feminine plural form, are not always written. Instead the form may resemble the feminine singular adjective, even though the intended form is feminine and plural. The absence may be caused by any number of reasons, including lack of space or scribal preference. In these circumstances, it is important to consider the context in which the adjective is found in order to determine the best translation.

Adjectives as Modifiers

When adjectives are used as a modifier, the adjective will always  follow the noun, pronoun, or noun phrase it modifies and they will share the same gender and number.

The adjective nb, “every, all,” is often confused with the noun for “lord, owner,” nb, as they appear identical. However, we can distinguish the adjective nb from its nominal (noun) counterpart by following the simple rule above: an adjectives follows the word it modifies. Lets look at a few examples:


 Noun + Adjective

Noun + Noun 

 Noun + Adjective

 Hieroglyphs showing an adjective as a modifier  Hieroglyphs showing a noun phrase  

 nṯr nb “every god”

 nb nṯrw “lord of the gods”

nṯr nfrw “perfect gods”


As you can see, when adjective nb is used to modify a noun, it follows the noun it modifies and agrees in number and gender. In the first example, nb follows nṯr and agrees in number and gender (singular, masculine), so the adjective nb is being used. This is the case for nṯrw nfrw as well. The adjective nfrw follows the noun it modifies (nṯr) and agrees with its number and gender (plural, masculine).

In the second example, nb precedes nṯrw, so it is the noun nb that is used. This construction is known as the direct genitive, which was touched on in Lesson 2. If you recall, the direct genitive does not require the two nouns to share the same gender or number, unlike the noun + adjective construction.

Adjectives as Nouns

Adjectives may also be used as nouns; however, identifying this use is usually problematic for beginners. Thankfully, when adjectives are used as nouns, they use the same endings as other nouns. In some cases, a determinative will follow the adjective-noun, in order to specify to whom or what the adjective is referring. Lets look at an example.


nḏs, “poor man”

In this example, the adjective ns, “poor, small”  is followed by the seated man determinative. With the addition of this determinative, we should more precisely translate this as “poor man.” If the seated woman determinative followed the word, “poor woman” would be more appropriate.

A very common use of the adjective as a noun uses the feminine, singular gender and number. This use describes a “thing” as containing a certain quality. One often cited example is Hieroglyph for a good thing nfrt, “a good thing.”  The book roll is commonly found as a determinative under these circumstances, but that is not always the case.

Now, because adjectives can function as nouns, we find these adjective-nouns constructions similar to those where we find nouns, such as direct genitives or in noun phrases. One such construction has been termed the nfr r construction by Egyptologists. In this construction, the adjective assumes the form of a noun and forms a noun phrase with the noun is precedes. For example, lets look at two words this construction is named after, nfr  and ḥr  Hieroglyph for good of face. Here, nfr is used as a noun “a good one” and precedes the noun ḥr “face.” So, a literal translation could be  “a good one of face.” A more refined English translation would be “good of face”  This type of construction is commonly found after a god, king, or person, in order to qualify the type of person they are or a specific skill set they possess.


Adjectives and Degrees of Comparison

Adjectives are also be used to show degrees of comparisons between to nouns (good, better, best). We have already seen the first degree, which is simply the adjective used as a modifier (good man).

In the comparative form (better, easier), the second degree of comparison, the preposition r - hieroglyph of comparison of comparison, “with respect to” or “compared to,” is used to compare two nouns. The preposition is placed after the adjective and follows this basic format noun + adjective + r + noun. Lets look at an example:


 r of comparison example sentence

ʿ3 ʿ3 r ʿ3 nb

“a donkey greater than every donkey,” or “a great donkey in comparison to every donkey.”

The superlative form of the adjective (best, easiest), the final degree of comparison,  uses either the direct or indirect genitive. A common example showing the superlative form is wr wrw - Example of the Superlative wr wrw, “great one of great ones,” or “the greatest of all.” In this example, the direct genitive is used, with the adjectives wr and wrw being used as nouns; however, the same notion is expressed when the genitive n is placed in between wr and wrw.


Relative Adjectives

The relative adjective is rarer early on in the study of Egyptian hieroglyphs, but it is still useful to be familiar with it. The following chart lists the different forms of the relative adjective.


Relative Adjectives
Number Masculine Feminine
Singular  nty
Plural  ntyw  nt(yw)t


These types of adjectives can be used as either a noun or a modifier. When it modifies something, the adjective will follow the word it modifies and will share the same number and gender. A bare bones translation would be “(modified word) who/which/that is X.” Lets look at an example:

 s nty im - relative adjective example

s nty im

“the man who is there”

The noun s is masculine and singular, so it is followed by nty the masculine, singular relative adjective. Now, if we were to remove s, the result would be nty im  nty im - relative adjective example. In this case, nty would function as a noun and the resulting translation would be “the one who is there.”


Lesson 5 Vocabulary and Exercises


Vocabulary List

Ax - Beneficial 3 “Beneficial”

iqr - Excellent iqr “Excellent”

aA - Great ʿ3 “Great”

aSA - Many ʿš3 “Many, numerous”

wab - Pure wʿb “Pure”

wr - Great wr “Great”

bnr - Sweet bnr “Sweet, pleasant”

mAa - True m3ʿ  “True”

nfr - Good nfr “Good”

HfAw - Serpent f3w “Serpent”

xfty - Enemy fty “Enemy”

sxty - Peasant sty “Peasant”



iw - Biliteral iw

wA - Biliteral w3

wn - Biliteral wn

bA - Biliteral b3

pA - Biliteral p3

mA - Biliteral m3

HA - Biliteral 3

Sm - Biliteral šm

Sw - Biliteral šw


abA or sxm - Triliteral ʿb3 or sm

imA - Triliteral im3

wAD - Triliteral w3

sAT - Triliteral s3

snD - Triliteral sn

sDm and idn - Triliteral sm or idn

Ssp - Triliteral šsp

grg - Triliteral grg

dSr - Triliteral dšr


Exercises: transliterate and translate

1. Lesson 5 Exercise - 1

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wsir nr ʿ3 nty m 3bw “Osiris, great god who is in Abydos.”

2.Lesson 5 Exercise - 2

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bit bnr wʿb ntt m pr nsw “Sweet and pure honey which is in the king’s house.”

3.Lesson 5 Exercise - 3

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ntk nr 3 iqr n t3wy “You are a benificial and excellent god of the two lands.”

4.Lesson 5 Exercise - 4

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f3w ʿš3(w) ntyw r-gs st tn “Many serpents which are beside this place.”


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